Of course, it’s not just consumer groups that are frustrated with the lack of traceback success with the Yuma-E. coli-romaine lettuce connection.
Every grower, distributor, retailer, consumer, produce association leader and food safety official in the U.S. shares some level of angst about what has happened. There is also hot-running rage from those who have been directly impacted by the outbreak and the aftermath.
I spoke with New Jersey lettuce growers this week and a couple had some choice words about the whole episode. They suffered a stumbling start to their romaine season this spring, as consumers and buyers stayed away in droves despite no good reason.
The left-wing media also was skewered by the growers for the way they handled news about the outbreak.
One grower, in particular, let a few expletives loose; “G$%[email protected]” Yuma Arizona, with their romaine that was no good” was his opening comment. He was incredulous that authorities could not come up with one farm out of 25 growers or one packing plant out of 15 that was the source of the problem.
Weren’t the growers out West the ones that wanted all this third-party auditing? And yet when it comes down to it, they couldn’t find the problem?
The cruel intent, he suggested, was to kill the little guy.
“The poor guy in Colorado with the cantaloupes, they got him right away, but out of 24 growers, they couldn’t find one. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Conspiracy theories aside, the frustration is running high and the industry’s grappling with the E. coli outbreak is gaining the wrong kind of notice.
In a story headlined “Effects of E. coli outbreak in lettuce ripple through U.S. food supply chain,” The Wall Street Journal began the story this way.
“A deadly E. coli outbreak tied to romaine lettuce has shaken consumers’ faith in the nation’s favorite salad green, resulting in millions of dollars of losses for growers, retailers and restaurants.”
For readers of The Packer this is all-too-familiar plowed ground - the tainted romaine is gone from the market, officials have traced the problem to Yuma but haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact source, and so on. The story cited a 45% drop in retail romaine lettuce sales this month compared with year-ago levels.
Big money is on the line. Besides the numerous lawsuits, the story noted that supply chain contracts sometimes require the supplier to reimburse distributors for expenses related to pulling product during an outbreak.
The article hearkened back to the 2006 spinach outbreak, which helped spur the momentum toward passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Again in 2018, there is an impulse to “do something.”
Ashley Nickle reports that growers, shippers, packers, buyers, government entities and consumers will be represented on the new Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force.
According to the story, people wanting to participate in the task force can contact the Arizona and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements in the next couple of weeks.
To keep it “real,” it might be good to have some New Jersey representation on the task force.